“For,” said he, “the luck of Lingborough’s come back, missis. It’s Lob Lie-by-the-fire”
“It’s Lob Lie-by-the-fire!”
So Thomasina whispered exultingly, and Annie the lass timidly. Thomasina cautioned the cowherd to hold his tongue, and she said nothing to the little ladies on the subject. She felt certain that they would tell the parson, and he might not approve. The farm-bailiff knew of a farm on the Scotch side of the Border where a brownie had been driven away by the minister preaching his last Sunday’s sermon over again at him, and as Thomasina said, “There’d been little enough luck at Lingborough lately, that they should wish to scare it away when it came.”
And yet the news leaked out gently, and was soon known all through the neighborhood—as a secret.
“The luck of Lingborough’s come back. Lob’s lying by the fire!”
He could be heard at his work any night, and several people had seen him, though this vexed Thomasina, who knew well that the good people do not like to be watched at their labours.
The cowherd had not been able to resist peeping down through chinks in the floor of the loft above the barn, where he slept, and one night he had seen Lob fetching straw for the cowhouse. “A great rough, black fellow,” said he, and he certainly grew bigger and rougher and blacker every time the cowherd told the tale.
The Lubber-fiend appeared next to a boy who was loitering at a late hour somewhere near the little ladies’ kitchen-garden, and whom he pursued and pelted with mud till the lad nearly lost his wits with terror. (It was the same boy who was put in the lock-up in the autumn for stealing Farmer Mangel’s Siberian crabs.)
For this trick, however, the rough elf atoned by leaving three pecks of newly-gathered fruit in the kitchen the following morning. Never had there been such a preserving season at Lingborough within the memory of Thomasina.
The truth is, hobgoblins, from Puck to Will-o’-the-wisp, are apt to play practical jokes and knock people about whom they meet after sunset. A dozen tales of such were rife, and folks were more amused than amazed by Lob Lie-by-the-fire’s next prank.
There was an aged pauper who lived on the charity of the little ladies, and whom it was Miss Betty’s practice to employ to do light weeding in the fields for heavy wages. This venerable person was toddling to his home in the gloaming with a barrow load of Miss Betty’s new potatoes, dexterously hidden by an upper sprinkling of groundsel and hemlock, when the Lubber-fiend sprang out from behind an elder-bush, ran at the old man with his black head, and knocked him, heels uppermost, into the ditch. The wheelbarrow was afterwards found in Miss Betty’s farmyard, quite empty.
And when the cowherd (who had his own opinion of the aged pauper, and it was a very poor one) went that evening to drink Lob Lie-by-the-fire’s health from a bottle he kept in the harness room window, he was nearly choked with the contents, which had turned into salt and water, as fairy jewels turn to withered leaves.